Tuesday, July 20, 2010

41 Years Ago

I'm lucky enough to have been alive for the single most important moment in human history, the first time humans stepped out onto another celestial body.

41 years ago today, July 20, 1969, we made it to the Moon.

This mind-boggling technical - and human - triumph never ceases to amaze and astound me, and bring up a sense of pride that I find almost impossible to muster any other way. It makes me truly sad to hear teens and 20-somethings address this amazing event with a combination of snark and apathy; in their lives, they've never known something so momentous, unique, a few minutes that brought all humanity together with the deepest sense of connection and pride. To those bravest souls who faced the unknown with fierce determination, and in some cases, gave their lives, I salute you for your courage and sheer chutzpah. Just try to imagine what it felt like, hurtling through the darkness of space, all sense of reality skewed, knowing that one bad decision could strand you and your crewmates to the coldness of the infinite. It just takes my breath away.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This Amazing Planet

There's an important interview that Bill Moyers did with famed biologist E. O. Wilson a few years ago, dealing with the issue of the diversity of life on this planet. Like all Moyers' work, it's a truly insightful interview, but there's one particular point that really opened my eyes when I first heard it - right at the beginning, Wilson emphatically states that we've yet to discover the majority of species of life on this planet - perhaps 90% of the life on this planet is unknown to us. And this isn't some wild-eyed lunatic from the fringes of society making this claim, we're talking about one of the most respected and capable scientists alive today.

Given these facts, I was fascinated to see this news item today, about the discovery of a variety of species of life thought to be extinct, or new lifeforms altogether, at the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

I've been saying it for years - the true history of life on this planet is still mostly a baffling mystery, and every day, we discover how much we've yet to learn about the nature of reality, the Universe, this planet and ourselves.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Australian report on Gulf disaster

Apparently, the criminals over at BP had this video removed from the web already, so watch this while you can:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

NASA Images of Gulf

This is scary, and makes the situation a little, um, clearer:

Take note that this image sequence reflects just the first month, we're already into the second month of this disaster, and these pictures show just what's near the surface of the water. I've also read some estimates that this particular field might have up to 50 billion barrels of crude oil, and no one knows when - or if - the situation can be remedied.

Totally terrifying, to say the least.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Gulf Disaster

Here is yet another clear indication that we're not being told what is really going on down in the Gulf:

Absolutely horrific.

SUNDAY, JUNE 27 - The video has "been removed by the user". Huh, that's odd. VERY odd. 

HERE is a link to a CNN story about her husband...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dave Berry is The Tourist

An old, close friend of mine, David Berry, happens to be an amazing filmmaker and animator, and this is one of his outstanding creations, a tour-de-force of time-lapse photography and sheer creativity.

The Tourist from David Berry on Vimeo.

I was present as a helper with the footage shot in New York City - that was a fun day, it's interesting how New Yorkers almost never seem surprised at anything on the street, even a couple of guys shooting some wacky video.

The last movie I worked on was with Dave, we got called in to do some visual effects work on David Arquette's directorial debut, The Tripper.

It was a blast, we were referred to Arquette by Dave's old friend Paul Ruebens, who was in the film, and who also has a thing about the craft services tent - Paul is truly one of the most gracious, fun people you could ever hope to hang with, and it wasn't the first time I had spent time with him.

Oh, the stories from those days on set. And the evenings - that one night we made the resort where the "A-list" folks were staying, keep the clubhouse open so the cast and select crew members could get sloshed late into the night (I normally don't do alcohol, but, well, oh boy)...

Good times.

Your Favorite Dinosaur Sucks

This is NSFW, so be warned, but it's very clever. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Perfect "Robot" Movie

Years ago, my brother Barry told me how much he adored the often overlooked Robin Williams film, "Bicentennial Man". Released around the same time as some other questionable Williams vehicles (like Patch Adams), it was basically a financial flop, and has essentially been forgotten. Realizing that it was available on Netflix streaming services, I decided to finally watch it, and I was floored. It's nothing short of a masterpiece of storytelling, a rumination on the nature of humanity and empathy, and the relationship between people and the technology we create to make our lives better.

Originally marketed as a comedy, it's a serious, engaging and well-written fable, a modern Pinocchio, perfect for these times and technological trappings. Adapted from a story (The Positronic Man) written by one of my favorite authors, Isaac Asimov, the dialog is intelligent and thoughtful in a way that few commercial films can ever aspire to, and the cast is just wonderful (I adore Oliver Pratt as the engineer who keeps upgrading Andrew over the years). While there are certainly very funny moments, this is not a comedy at all, but a drama with comedic touches. The robot, Andrew, undergoes an evolution that mirrors that of the thoughtful mind, an increasing awareness of the human environment he inhabits - yet is separate from - and the understanding that reality is what we make of it. This might be one of the best adaptions of an Asimov story to the screen - if anyone reading this cares to challenge this opinion, show me the frames.

Not a great trailer, but it'll give you the general gist of the film

By the end of the movie, I was in tears. Very few movies are this fulfilling, uplifting, capable of making me feel more alive and in the moment. The Bicentennial Man is a modern classic, and anyone doubting Williams' acting range, should take a couple of hours and immerse themselves in a film that's pretty darned close to being nothing less than awesome. The ending might be one of the most moving, romantic and satisfying few minutes I've ever seen in any film, and left me swooning. It's a wonderful "date film" - at least, for the kind of woman I'd like to watch it with, who would appreciate it as much I as do.

A footnote - one of the movie reviewers I usually agree with, Ebert, gave this movie two out of four stars, and he apparently felt that the movie started strong, and ended weakly, essentially coming to the conclusion that, "Bicentennial Man begins with promise, proceeds in fits and starts, and finally sinks into a cornball drone of greeting-card sentiment".  I have to respectfully disagree with Ebert, I felt tremendously satisfied, especially towards the end. To each their own, I suppose.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Wright Brothers & Apollo 11

I've been reading the excellent biography of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, "First Man" - it's the only authorized book about Armstrong's life in existence, and it's only been out a few years. Anything dealing with the space program has always deeply fascinated me - one of my main "comfort food" DVDs is "For All Mankind", a stunning montage of moon mission footage and shimmering Brian Eno music that I can watch over and over, engaging and uplifting my spirits like few other things. I feel so very lucky to have been alive to witness this event, the moment we first stepped onto another celestial body.

In the book, I stumbled upon a detail I had never heard about before: each of the three Apollo 11 astronauts had a small, lunch-size bag sized pouch called a "Personal Preference Kit" (PPK), a teflon-coated bag that could weigh no more than 5 pounds, contents included. These were meant for the astronauts to be able to bring personal momentos to and from the Moon. The discretion about the contents of the PPKs was left completely to the astronauts, and while some have even auctioned off items they took on the journey, very little is known about the contents of Armstrong's PPK. In "First Man", a detail jumped out at me, and literally brought a tear to my eye: Armstrong apparently made an arrangement with the National U.S. Air Force Museum, and had been given a small piece of wood from the propeller of the Wright Brother's famous 1903 flyer, as well as a 8x13 inch piece of muslin fabric from the left wing, to include in his PPK.

The deeply touching symbolism of taking those pieces of the first flying machine to the Moon and back, just leaves me with a huge grin and a soft glow in my heart.

They also left some interesting items on the moon (at the very last moment before shutting the hatch - they almost forgot, according to the book), including a pair of Soviet-made medallions honoring Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, as well as patches for Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who had all died in a tragic launch pad fire incident.

Friday, June 18, 2010


AudioGeeks, rejoice: MVerb an astounding little reverb plugin, pro quality sound, fairly extensive controls, low processor draw and did I mention it's free? And open source? GarageBand, Live, Logic, Mac, Windows, it seems to work everywhere.

Obligatory public service announcement: with any reverb, you should always try to set the mix ration of dry/wet signal to 70/30, and tweak from there. On this little wonder, start at a setting of around 0.25 for the Mix knob, and adjust down, to less reverb. It's like salt - a little goes a long way. Reverb is an easy way to add a little virtual "air", or space, around any sound, but especially those generated artificially, like drum machines and synthesizers, as well as close-captured vocals. This thing sounds really, really good, it's a gem of a tool.

No Surprises

A gorgeous cover of a wonderful Radiohead tune, No Surprises.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


No, it's not Monty Python. Yes, that's Marty Feldman. Made me smile. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Paracast theme music

So there's this podcast show I co-created, and left this year... and recently, it seems like the audience has been less than thrilled with the new theme music the show is using - and I generally agree, the new stuff is corporate and bland - much like the new direction of the show. I had decided that I no longer wanted my music associated with the program, but given that folks seem to really like the original tune, the whole, unedited theme is up on the MetaFilter music page. I rarely share my music with anyone - it's definitely a personal quirk of mine; as public as I make my writing and podcast work, my music is another matter entirely, and besides a couple of close friends, this stuff was never meant for public consumption. I don't consider myself a very good musician, I just really enjoy making noise. No excuses.

The song, called "mizderE", was recorded in a couple of hours, using Ableton Live and a slew of plugins, some long-discontinued. Paracast fans, this is for you, as a show of appreciation for listening to my former podcast!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Raymond Scott, Sequencing, Numerology and Musical Magic

I recently had the pleasure of attending a screening of the captivating documentary "Deconstructing Dad - The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott", lovingly created by Scott's son, Stan Warnow, a resident of the Hudson valley (the screening was sponsored by my friends over at Rivertown Film). The film is deeply personal, compelling blend of Scott's considerable talents in musical composition, electronics, audio synthesis, engineering and recording technologies. I've known about Scott for years - The Music of Raymond Scott: Reckless Nights & Turkish Twilights, and "Manhattan Research, Inc." are longtime parts of my collection, and are required listening for anyone who appreciates uniquely eccentric music.

Check out his very first hit song, Powerhouse, and ask yourself, why does this sound familiar?

Think Warner Brother cartoons.

Here's the trailer for the documentary:

In many ways, Scott was very much the Frank Zappa of his era, in that he worked with some of the top session musicians of the time, but reached the point where he seemed to feel that technology was the only way to recreate the complexity of the music running through his imagination. Scott hired a young Robert Moog right out of school, to help build early analog synthesis and sequencing hardware, culminating in a audio workstation called The Electronium.

Sequencing is what Scott ended up devoting a major portion of his creative efforts to later in life, and his elaborate electronic studio was the most powerful sequencer on the planet for some amount of time, an impressive achievement in any era. The Sequencer is essentially the tool for arranging the musical notes that are used to trigger sounds - in a player piano, the punched paper was the note sequence used to trigger the actual mechanical hammer assemblies.

While most DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) hardware and software is designed around the idea of combining MIDI sequencing with sampled-audio tracks (live, mic'd instruments and recorded vocals), there is one particular program that goes far beyond the typical sequencing capabilities found in most programs - it's a Mac-only marvel called Numerology, and there's absolutely nothing like it on any other platform. It uses the flexibility of software to deliver sequencing potential that literally blows my mind... and it would have made Raymond Scott smile ear-to-ear, no question. I did a review for Mac|Life that merely scratches the surface of this addictive wonder, and it's just one of those situations where it's hard to clearly explain the amazing depth of this uniquely creative, deeply fascinating musical production tool.

Watch this movie, and you'll start to understand the possibilities.

There are plenty more demo movies that show off some of what you can accomplish with Numerology, check them out.

It uses any Audio Units synth and effects plugin you have installed in your Mac (and there are LOTS of those floating around), and there's no question that it's one of my desert island picks. It's the fruits of the mind of an amazingly talented creative programmer/musician, James Coker, who has come up with something so special, he deserves a MacArthur Award for his efforts. For $119, you can enjoy the same level of potential that took Raymond Scott many years, and thousands of dollars, to cobble together. If ever someone's soul could haunt a piece of software released years after his passing, well, I'd be willing to bet there's some Scott lurking somewhere deep in Numerology.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The new Audio Recorder to Beat

Anyone who does any type of field recording already knows about the very popular Zoom H2, which I reviewed for Mac|Life some time ago. Overall, I thought it offered an amazing value for the money. Well, Samson Technology has just announced the H1, which is supposed to deliver the exact same microphones and basic specs for, get ready, $99, which is just nuts. I can't imagine it's built any worse than the H2, and it looks like they've really simplified the interface, which some felt was a bit overwhelming in the H2 (I personally have had zero problems figuring out the controls, but then again, I'm me). I can't wait to get ahold of this thing, I suspect it's going to sell like gangbusters. Just one thing, though - Samson, we'll all survive without the 2 gig card bundled with the unit, feel free to donate mine to charity.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Photoshop CS 5 Content Aware Fill

Much has been written about the rather cool new Content Aware Fill mojo in Photoshop CS5, but as you might expect, it's not exactly foolproof. This video, which I did for Mac|Life magazine, is the first in a series I'll be putting out independently on Photoshop CS5, as well as other software goodies that I think are worthy, and that often fall under the radar of the mainstream software world.

Far Too Long

Everyone knows how life has a tendency to take over, and distract someone away from their blog. I stand here before you today, guilty of the crime of being overwhelmed by life. But it's time to take the reins again, and get my analog digits busy, so here we go! And what better way to get started, than share a very cool concept animation which popped up on my screen thanks to the ILM Alumni listserve, check this out:

I'd love to see this movie, wouldn't you?